Dallas Cowboys quarterbacks coach Wade Wilson remembers how NFL film study used to go when he played in the 1980s and 1990s.
“The third quarterback had to splice the film,” Wilson said, shaking his head at the memory.
So much has changed since then with advances in technology.
Wilson is now seeing his quarterbacks implement the use of virtual reality to help improve their play. It’s cutting-edge and something the Dallas Cowboys jumped at the opportunity of adding this off-season, designing a room in which the quarterbacks can wear a headset and see a live-action 3-D replay of a play from any direction.
It goes hand-in-hand with them using drones to film practice during organized team activities this month, giving them additional views and angles in efforts to better their football team.
“You always want to be innovative in everything that you’re doing, you want to be on the cutting edge, particularly in how you teach players and hopefully how they learn,” head coach Jason Garrett said. “In the last few years, iPads have taken the place of playbooks, so there are some pros and cons to that.
“You have to understand how each player learns, what’s the most effective way to get the information across to them so they can play.”
This virtual reality system from STRIVR Labs was created and developed by former Stanford kicker David Belch, and the Cowboys are the first NFL team to use it. They join several major college programs who have bought it, as well, including Stanford, Arkansas, Auburn and Clemson.
The technology essentially gives the Cowboys’ quarterbacks the ability make pre-snap calls, in-play reads and physically drop back instead of simply watching a play back through a TV screen or tablet.
“It’s great, it really is a unique and special thing,” quarterback Tony Romo said. “We’re just getting started with it, but I think this will be a big deal here shortly. You will see it all over the place soon.”
The biggest benefactors from the system are likely to be Romo’s backups in Brandon Weeden and Dustin Vaughan.
Garrett, a backup quarterback during his playing days, loves the idea of this being a tool for Weeden and Vaughan to increase the number of reps they get on a daily basis.
With Romo’s surgically-repaired back presenting no issues this off-season and allowing him to practice every day the past three weeks during OTAs, Weeden and Vaughan haven’t gotten as many on-field reps as they did last off-season.
So the virtual reality system gives them the opportunity to get more reps, albeit in an unconventional fashion.
“It’s been something I’ve been thinking about for probably the last 25 years of my life because as a backup quarterback, you never get enough reps,” Garrett said. “Oftentimes you’re in a situation where you haven’t had the reps in practice and you have to go into a ballgame and play. So for a lot of backup players, we emphasize doing whatever you can do to get yourself ready.
“For quarterbacks, turn the radio off, turn the cell phone off when you’re driving around town, and call the plays out loud. Visualize yourself breaking the huddle, going to the line of scrimmage, making ‘Mike’ IDs, pointing out guys on defense, putting yourself in that place. This virtual reality system that we have in place here with the Cowboys is a good tool for us to take the next step in regards to that.”
For as much as the Cowboys are willing to add technology such as this, though, Garrett stressed that the team will remain steadfast in its old-school approach.
Garrett said the new system will not alter how the team practices or plays, simply saying it will only enhance what they do.
“We’re an old-school operation,” Garrett said. “That’s how we conduct our business day to day, whether it’s in the meeting room, in a walk-through, on the practice field and hopefully how we play.
“Those are the things that we emphasize, old-school fundamentals that have won in this league for a long time.”
Drew Davison, 817-390-7760